Indians Furious Over Planned Road into Forest

San Jose Mercury News ■ Sunday, July 11, 1982

Indians Furious Over Planned Road into Forest

“You can destroy a people just as effec­tively by mentally committing genocide as you can physically. If you destroy a people’s religious dignity, worth and purpose, you destroy them.’ –  Jack Norton, Hupa Indian

By Thomas Murphy
The Associated Press

EUREKA — Virgin timber tow­ers above the headwaters of Blue Creek, providing refuge for the golden eagle, the spotted owl and the wolverine.

Pepperwood and incense cedars rise beside Oregon myrtle, madrone, vine maple and Pacific dog­wood. Salmon and brook trout thrive in the pristine water.

It is not surprising that four In­dian tribes — the Hurok, Hupa, Tolowa and Karok — have prized the high country northeast of here for centuries, reserving it as a sacred place for training medicine men.

Nor is it surprising that lumber companies have long sought a way into this rugged area of Northern California so they could haul its rare timbers to mills along the coast.

The Forest Service says the area could be used for both purposes. Later this summer, it will con­struct the final six-mile leg of the 55-mile Gasquet-Orleans Road, a project it claims will achieve that end.

But Indian leaders decry the project, known as the GO Road, as “cultural genocide.”

“Instead of killing us off, they’re said Walt Lara, a Hurok Indian and logger whose family members worship in the high country.

Jack Norton, a Hupa who teaches ethnic studies at nearby Humboldt State University, agrees.

“You can destroy a people just as effectively by mentally commit­ting genocide as you can physical­ly,” Norton said. “If you destroy a people’s religious dignity, worth and purpose, you destroy them.”

Medicine men, called shamans, have been the traditional leaders of the tribes, which do not have chiefs.

The strongest incentive for building the road through Hum­boldt and Del Norte counties is the jobs it will provide. The unemploy­ment rate hit 18 percent in Hum­boldt County this spring. It passed 28 percent in Del Norte County.

The Forest Service predicts the road will create 203 jobs. Del Nor­te County residents, in a June 1980 referendum, voted 4-to-l in favor of completing the road.

Right now. Forest Service offi­cials say the Indians are the only ones benefiting from the Blue Creek region.

“We’re directed by Congress to manage this thing for multiple use and benefits for all people,” said

Richard Ferneau, environmental coordinator for the Six Rivers Na­tional Forest.

To establish “multiple use/’ the Forest Service has approved a master plan for “the Blue Creek unit” The road will open up the country. The plan will tell which areas can be clear-cut and which must be preserved.

Ferneau said the Indian “power sites” — sacred areas with names like Doctor Rock and Medicine Mountain — will be protected by half-mile buffer zones.

The Indians say buffer zones won’t do the job. To them “the whole country is sacred,” Norton said. For centuries, Indians seeking spiritual enlightenment have hiked through the wilderness as part of their rite.

“That’s why all the other coun­try is just as important as when you get there,” said Lara.

“That’s what the Forest Service and every­body else doesn’t understand. They want to set aside a specific spot, but that’s no good.

However, some of the govern­ment’s own experts are against the road. In separate reports, both written under government con­tract, anthropologists Dorothy Theodoratus and William Bright each have noted that the highway could interfere with Indian prac­tices.

“I believe that the inviolate character of the Chimney Rock ar­ea is of great religious significance to a growing number of Indians, and that road building and logging in that area would violate, without any compelling reason, the reli­gious rights of those Indians,” Bright wrote.

Alexander Aldrich, chairman of the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, has called the road “a case study of inept agency planning and decision-mak­ing that has created an unneces­sary conflict between economic de­velopment and preservation.”

Forest Service officials shrug off such comments, saying the govern­ment is required to consult groups like the council. “We don’t have to follow their recommendations,” re­creation staff officer John Holt said.

Even if the road is built, and even if the trees are cut and hauled to the mill, the mills may have no desire to saw them. California’s construction industry is in such a severe recession that there is little demand for the lumber the Forest Service wants to sell.

The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund already has filed suit to stop the Blue Creek management plan from taking effect. With help from the Northcoast Environmental Center, it hopes to expand that suit to include the GO Road.

“After working all those years with Smokey the Bear, the Forest Service has a high degree of credi­bility,” center spokesman Tim McKay said. “But they’ve pretty much reversed that in this situa­tion.”

McKay said that besides affect­ing the Indian sites, the plans for Blue Creek will min fisheries, pol­lute the creek with runoff, cause landslides on the steep hillsides and drive wildlife out of the area — all contentions that the Forest Service emphatically denies.

And the only people who would use the road for recreational pur­poses, McKay said, are people “who think its aesthetically pleas­ing to look at clear cuts.”


Hurok is a mis-spelling of Yurok.

Completion of the road, which is located mostly in Del Norte and Siskiyou Counties would divert timber jobs from Humboldt and Siskiyou Counties according to the Forest Service Environmental Statement prepared for the project. New timber jobs would not be created only redistributed.

For more information write:
The Siskiyou Mountains Resources Council
P.0. Box 4376 Arcata, Ca. 95521

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